Monday, December 1, 2008

Foster's Wine Estates Premium Tasting



Tasting events come in many shapes and sizes: winemaker's lunches, wine store tasting bars, festivals, and of course the buyer's tasting. I had the good fortune to be invited to the lattermost event hosted by Foster's Wine Estates just in time for the Christmas stocking season. As an event, the tasting room was quite 'tastefully' set-up at the District 319 theatre at, of all places, Main and Hastings. A long row of premium Californian and Australian wines sat on the large concrete bar at the centre of the room, prompting me invitingly when I arrived. While I tasted the wines from lighter to fuller bodied, I will order my tasting notes by producer. Overall it was a successful and well-designed event. Nearly all the wines listed below are 'spec' items, which means you will have to go to a private liquor store to obtain them.


Beringer Sbragia Limited Release Chardonnay 2005

Toasted nose and a nice rich palate with orchard fruit. Round, but not flabby, this is great for the style, but in my personal opinion the Private Reserve chardonnay is a better buy. A lot less boring than the Wolf Blass Chard I also tasted (note below).

Very Good+
$50


Beringer Napa Valley Pinot Noir 2006

Rich light red fruit on the nose, with a little chocolate and pepper added on the palate. This had a bit more delicacy, and a lot more ripeness, than the cool climate pinots I also tasted, but ultimately I thought this was a pretty standard and not so interesting pinot.

Good+
$30


Beringer Napa Valley Merlot 2005

A spicy, woody cab-franc like nose with blackberry fruit. On the palate was a nice richness, a little leather, and quite firm tannins (probably brought in by the small percentage of blended cab-franc and cab sauv ). I thought this was very tasty and I highly recommend it for the price. Beringer seems to know how to make a good merlot.

Very Good+
$30


Beringer Steinhauser Ranch NV Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

Sweet black fruit, oak and vanilla on the nose. The palate had cassis, a kiss of vanilla, blueberry and bitter cocoa. Good, but frankly not terrifically fascinating. Another big Napa cab.

Very Good
$84


Chateau St. Jean La Petite Etoile Fumé Blanc 2005

This had a big smoky nose with a touch of oak. The oak gave the wine roundness, thickness and depth on the palate, much more than you would expect from a traditional unoaked Fume Blanc. The palate also brought out citrusy tropical fruit flavours and was generally crisp and alive. This Russian River Valley wine also had excellent structure on the mid-palate and the finish. Another stand-out of the tasting for me. Recommended. Outstanding value.

Very Good+ to Excellent
$35


Chateau St. Jean Belle Terre Chardonnay 2005

The first sniff exposed a caramelized nose with real density. Apple, mango and papaya filled the mid-palate and a decent, but not intense, core of acidity drew the wine through to the finish without palate fatigue. Well done – the best chard of the tasting.

Excellent
$44


Chateau St. Jean Sonoma Pinot Noir 2006

Pure simple strawberry fruit. Very chewy and concentrated with a bit of pepper on the palate. Good for the price, but simple and a little clumsy right now. I think this needs bottle age.

Very Good
$30


Chateau St. Jean Sonoma County Merlot 2005

A nose of cedar, raspberry and spice – inviting. Typically soft and round easy drinking merlot made for those who like fruity velvet with refined tannins. Decent for me, but nothing special.

Very Good
$46


Chateau St. Jean Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Very nice classic nose of mint and cedar. Built for steak, the palate was juicy and woody with cassis and blackberry. A dry tannic finish. This was blended using grapes from the Alexander Valley, Knights Valley and the Sonoma Valley.

Very Good+
$50


Etude Pinot Noir Rose 2006

Pear and apple on the nose and palate. Smooth and sweet, this is made for those who like sweet easy to drink bubbly. Still, for standard sweet bubbles, this was not over the top.

Good
$30


Etude CN Pinot Gris 2006

From grapes grown in Carneros, this very nice white had an orchard fresh palate replete with round orchard fruits, especially pear. A bit thick fruity palate filled the mouth nicely and was firm enough to suggest a second sip. While this lacks a bit of complexity, it is good for the price.

Very Good
$30


Etude CN Pinot Noir 2005

Here we had a cool climate pinot with an interesting nose of dill and red currant. The palate was peppery and floral, although fairly tannic. This feels a bit tight right now, but it had superb concentration and will probably show well in 2-3 years.

Very Good
$60


Etude Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

This was a favourite of many at the tasting, and it certainly had real potency and a complex layering of flavour. The nose was chocolaty and had rich dark fruit. The palate was incredibly smooth, concentrated and long with chocolate and fig predominating. I detected some heat on the back end however, and thought this was perhaps a little expensive for what you got. Some will love this, though. I prefer more subtlety.

Very Good+
$110


Stag’s Leap Winery Chardonnay 2006

I only know these guys for their fantastic petite sirah; however, I was quite surprised at the style and pizzazz of this chardonnay which was a bridge between new and old world styles. The nose offered buttered apple and pineapple, but the palate had a very nice crispness that was perfect for food. Perhaps too acidic on the mid-palate as a foodless sipper, this will be a fantastic pairing option.

Very Good
$38


St. Clement Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

Classic Napa cab at a ‘good’ price. A big nose of cedar and cassis that was a little clumsier than the St. Jean, but had immediate approachability. The palate remained similar to the nose with cedar wood, blackberry and black current. Drinking well now.

Very Good
$59


St. Clement Oroppas 2004

Oroppas is Sapporo spelled backwards, namely because Beringer purchased this estate from Sapporo. Personally I found that a pretty lame attempt at naming a wine, but at least it tasted good! I found this wine to be very warm with rich chocolate and blackberry aromas. The palate even offered a tinge of black olive, with amazing concentration throughout the palate development. Big and prune-like with a lot of richness, this was still slightly hot on the back end (which I noticed with a number of the wines poured at this event). So, even with its full mouthfeel it is just so dang big that it lacked elegance for me.

Very Good to Very Good+
$76


Taz Cuyama Pinot Noir 2005

Ah, pretty aromatics – I like that. A slightly floral nose with a very smooth and long strawberry palate. Rich and concentrated, this was pleasant but not brilliant. For pinot aficionados, worth a try at the price.

Very Good
$37


Taz Goat Rock Syrah

Gamey and replete with overripe red fruit. The palate was peppery, but too sweet and had unbalanced tannins. Missing something.

Fair
$38


Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir 2006

Coldsteam is an interesting little producer (albeit owned by Foster’s) in the Yarra valley in Australia. I enjoy Australian pinot since it seems to offer something a little different and usually at a pretty good value (pinot tends to be over priced since Sideways). This had a strawberry nose with a distinctly raw character. The palate was very interesting with notes of cigar and tobacco. Has style, but lacks complexity. I also thought it was served a bit too warm.

Good+ to Very Good
$30


Wynns John Riddoch Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Ah Coonawara, a great cooler climate region that gets less attention out here than it deserves. I find Wynns to produce pretty good value wines, but this, their top offering, is something special. Eucalyptus and violets on the nose made this very pretty and intensely aromatic. Red and dark berries with cedar filled out the palate. I thought this had great finesse and subtlety with a firm structure and rich flavours. Nonetheless, there is the right level of acidity to carry an entire bottle without food, a rare feat amongst this crowd. Food would, however, certainly enhance this bottle. While tight right now, this will be beautiful in 5+ years. I really liked this wine.

Excellent to Excellent+ (with age)
$75


Rosemount Show Reserve Shiraz 2004

Big and minty with eucalyptus, chocolate and plum. Worth the money if you like the Australian style, but boring to me.

Very Good
$30


Rosemount Balmoral Syrah 2002

I’ve had this before, but it was showing differently this time round. The acidity I remember had really softened and much bigger fruit flavours were coming through. This was sort of like the show reserve with more concentration and length. I don’t think it’s worth the price.

Very Good
$70


Wolf Blass Gold Label Riesling 2005

Clare Valley is at it again, and with a fantastic price to boot. Petrol, clay and rich lime on the nose, the palate expanded this to include some rounder citrus flavours such as grapefruit. There is serious bite on this wine and it will not disappoint a pairing with sushi or Chinese food. I wish more people drank Riesling out here because it really is a perfect wine for the Vancouver food canvass.

Very Good+
$21


Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2004

A toasted oak nose with cream rich buttery flavours. With low acidity and a somewhat flabby texture, I was not that impressed. Boring. Some will enjoy.

Good+
$23

Wolf Blass Gold Label Shiraz / Viognier 2005

Certainly not top tier stuff. I think I have been spoiled by Clonakilla here. Nonetheless I enjoyed the floral and pepper notes and thought this was smooth and integrated. Pretty red berries peak out here and there. I like it.

Very Good
$30


Wolf Blass Gold Label Shiraz 2004

Another big spicy black fruits and plum monster. There is oak here too that provides a smooth and easy drinking palate. Not my thing as I really don’t think this’ll pair well with food.

Good+
$30


Wolf Blass Grey Label Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Here we are. Lovely Eucalyptus cedar nose with great intensity. Cassis and blackberry on the palate. Purity and value – this is a buy.

Very Good+
$36


Wolf Blass Platinum Label Shiraz 2000

I swear I got rubber on the nose here. I have heard that Jancis Robinson also detects rubber components on Stelvin closures. I have never noticed anything like that until now, but it was distinct and certainly there. This sort of ruined the wine for me, which otherwise seemed to have great structure and density with very rich plumy notes and a long finish.

Very Good (but something was up)
$80


Wolf Blass Gold Label Semillon Botrytis 2006

Blech. Sickly sweet. Rich grapefruit and apple. Super sugary and no balance.

Fair
$20


Penfolds St. Henri Shiraz 2004

Rich black fruit, pepper and mint. The palate on this shiraz is not typical Aussie, which is a good thing. This has good balance and acidity and will pair well with a wider range of food than is typical for Australian Shiraz (which normally only goes well with BBQ). I think this wasn’t showing as well as it could have been. But I recognized the quality.

Very Good+
$55


Penfolds RWT Shiraz 2005

The Barossa big boys have arrived. Real blue fruits on this with distinct fig characteristics. Almost raisinated, this is clearly made from super-ripe fruit. Rich, dense and flavourful, this is classic Barossa done well. What it lacks in subtlety it makes up in flavour.

Very Good+ to Excellent
$100+

There we are, another big tasting and a host of wines. I am wondering if there is a more reader friendly format for these types of reviews, but I haven’t come up with one yet. Again, all of these wines should be available at private stores in Vancouver (some will come out in Spring, such as the Riddoch cab). Thanks to Foster’s for hosting the tasting.

5 comments:

Edward said...

Shea,

Sounds like a very good tasting. It reinforces to me what an amazing portfolio Fosters has when it comes to wine. It will be interesting to see what happens on a corporate level, there has been speculation (for a long time) that they may be forced to spin out the wine making side of the company given it has underperformed.

Regarding the wine, I'm most inclined to buy some of the Wynns Micheal Shiraz - which is a similarly priced sibling to the John Riddoch.

Cheers,

Shea said...

It certainly was an excellent tasting. It's amazing to see such a large corporate entity holding so many quality properties.

Joe said...

Long post! I am a fan of the Oroppas which seems to maintain a reasonable price and excellent quality vs. the idiotic prices for Napa cult (and cult wannabe) cabs. I have been sitting on notes from a blind tasting of the '02 and '03 - stay tuned. I have never been impressed by the high-end Rosemounts. Sounds like a great tasting!

Sean Calder said...

Great write-up! I still have to do mine. I think we may have been tasting side-by-side and I didn't realize it was you.

Shea said...

Yep, probably. I was the guy with glasses, light brown hair and the unkempt beard (it is exam time afterall).